My Study Interests

My interest for computer graphics actually dates back to the mid 80s when I got my first computer, a Commodore 64. I first learned programming by typing in code from a magazine. Inspired by the games I started to experiment with sprites and animations. Being a math and science geek in school, I wrote programs to plot math functions and a periodic table of elements gui-app with a joystick-driven mouse pointer I’d written in Assembly. These were the humble beginnings.

In the 90s I was online for the first time, first in the local BBS networks, then with gateways to the Usenet and Fidonet, and then I ran my own BBS. I was super-inspired by the demoscene, especially by the Finnish demogroup Future Crew who created some incredible graphics and animations I never thought were possible on the computer at the time.

During this time I was working as a technical draftsman and got to use a Medusa CAD system on an old VMS workstations. At home I played with Photoshop and Kai Krause’s Power Tools, Bryce, and another landscape creation tool, I believe it was VistaPro if I remember correctly.

I also dabbled in 3D Studio and was also active in a local demogroup (Powerrun) for a while until I moved away for college and didn’t have the time anymore. My first attempts to make an animated music video in 3D Studio was a complete disaster because it took literally hours to render a single frame. My poor i486 PC just couldn’t handle it.

Eventually I decided it was time to get a proper education and degree, and I moved to Furtwangen to study computer science in digital media. The four years that followed were a rollercoaster ride with two practical semesters, and two project semesters which, in addition to the regular coursework, included a project in the industry. I was excited about the opportunity to use their SGI workstations and continue in 3D animation, but access was very limited - too many students who wanted to do the same and only a few workstations, so I focused on programming instead.

One project during that time was a Direct3D based audio animation prototype with soundcard manufacturer Terratec to test their 3D audio API. One could assign audio-sources to objects in 3D space, animate them graphically, record the animation on a MIDI track, and play back the animation in sync with the audio track and a video. You could for example, assign a helicopter sound to a 3d-object animate it to fly over the avatar’s head, and then hear the result. It was a team effort in which I handled the GUI and 3D environment, another student in our group focused on the MIDI support, another on the audio API. It was a true miracle we managed to put it together in time for the presentation and managed to present it without a crash.

For my final thesis I developed a prototype of a client-/server-based application that allowed users to upload maps and other geo-data and add them in multiple layers on a 3D landscape model. This was quite an ambitious project given the time available, but I managed to get a simple working Java3D prototype ready just in time for my final presentation. I wanted to continue this project as an Open Source project, but with Google Earth around it didn’t seem worth spending more time on this little app.

During the semester breaks I continued to work for the web-agency I’d been working for prior to the move. I also spent the first of the two internships there. For my second internship I used the opportunity to go abroad, and I worked at Absolute Quality, Inc., a test, support and quality assurance company for computer games and training software in Hunt Valley, Maryland. I extended my internship to a full year to work on a web-frontend for their bug tracking software.

After I graduated I moved to the United States and continued to work as a graphic designer in print first, then as a web-developer again. Having to support a living, my interest in computer graphics had to move into the background for a while, but the dream was still alive.

A few years ago I came across a paper on unified spray, foam and bubbles for particle-based fluids. When I saw the simulated ocean waves in motion I was hooked. I wanted to understand how it works and how to produce these animations myself, but I quickly realized that there was a lot of work and leasrning to be done before I could seriously think about this.

But it renewed my old interest for computer graphics and inspired me to start learning again. I have taken courses to brush up on math, languages, and computer graphics fundamentals with OpenGL and ray tracing from scratch. With so many exciting areas graphics it’s easy to get sidetracked by VR, machine learning, Blender, Houdini, ZBrush and more, but I wasn’t able to get more than bits and pieces of knowledge. They helped me to get a broad overview of the graphics industry and current research, but I haven’t managed to advance to a professional/working knowledge and skill level yet.

It’s been a slowly moving process and the “masterpiece” is not in sight yet, but I hope that I will have a few interesting things to show in the few years. It’s a hobby that will probably occupy the rest of my days. I would love to get back to school and focus on computer graphics academically again, but I haven’t found any programs for adult learners and fulltime employees yet. Sometimes I also had some doubts about my age and whether it would be a good investment of time and money if I graduate in my 50s and I’m not likely to change careers. But then I sometimes hear stories of people who get their PhD well in their 60s, even 70s. There may still be hope after all. :)

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